By John J. Clark
“Grace”, such a lovely word that brings a sense of security and comfort to the heart. It is a term that few really know or understand in a Biblical framework. Literally Grace means a kindness or blessings bestowed upon us that we have not deserved. This is one of the most central and profound concepts in the entire Bible. Yet a point must be made concerning grace that is often missed. The concepts of grace, love and forgiveness have become to the carnal minds of the church a type of justification for a laxness in attitudes
towards sin and failure to enter into true discipleship. Just as many have taken justification of the sinner and redirected it to mean justification of sin and the world, so the “costly grace” of God has been turned into a form of “cheap grace” without discipleship.
There is a difficult principle to understand here but please pay close attention to what I am about to say – there is a difference between data used for calculation and the sum arrived at. The German Goethe once wrote about a fictional character named Faust who spent his entire life in pursuit of knowledge and struggling with Satan for his soul. In the end Faust confessed: “I now do see that we can nothing know.” His statement was the sum of efforts A+B+C+… for life. It was the outcome of a long experience and it was the data of experience that gave the sum in true meaning. Kierkegaard observed, however, that it is quite a different thing when a freshman arrives at that conclusion from the beginning and uses it to justify his laziness in study. The answer as a sum is perfectly true. To use it, however, as initial data to be added to our laziness in study to justify our own sum that therefore I need not even try to study it, is a piece of
self-deception. Acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired.
Friend, discern this very clearly: the concept of grace must be understood as a sum. The only man who has a right to say he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a one knows the cost of the call to discipleship and that it is only by grace that he can sustain it. Only when the call and the
response are the data can grace be the sum. THUS THE CALL IS INSEPARABLE FROM GRACE.
Instead, the majority of men and women try to use this concept of grace as data to arrive at the sum which reads: “excused from sacrificial effort given the impossibility of the task.” Where scripture sees true grace as the provision of God that makes up for our failure after we have done all we could to follow Him — the
carnal minded have used it to excuse them from expending much effort at all – this is what I call “CHEAP GRACE”.
Under Cheap Grace the Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world. The upshot is that my only duty as a Christian is to leave
the world for an hour or so on Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are forgiven. I no longer need to try to follow Christ, for cheap grace, the most effective foe of true discipleship,
has freed me from that. Has cheap grace become the data you use to arrive at the deceptive conclusion that self sacrifice, surrender of personal desires and laying down your life for the brethren and the church are vestiges of a bygone era? Is it a grace that has set you free to seek your own purposes at the expense of the Kingdom call to true discipleship?
The church today has gathered around the carcass of cheap grace like turkey vultures to drink the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. We have come to hunger more for His forgiveness than His Lordship and Leadership because we see the first as making less demands upon our personal lives. Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without demanding repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, the cross, Jesus Christ living and incarnate.
Costly Grace, on the other hand, is the treasure hidden in a field. For the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is a pearl of great price to buy which will cost us everything. It’s the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus at which a disciple leaves his nets and follows. It is grace which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. Costly because it costs a man his life, it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. Costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, costly because it cost God the life of His
Son: “You have been bought with a price” and what has cost God so much can’t be cheap for us. It is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ, but it is grace because “My yoke is easy and my burden light”.
Low cost, discount grace closes the way to Christ and hardens men’s hearts in their disobedience. I often see new believers take the first few steps down the path of discipleship, and inevitably some disciple of the humanistic church introduces them to a cheaper way of grace and their growth just stops. Sunday School becomes a burden, evening service is to much to ask of my time, I need more leisure. Is not such a grace merciless and hard? It bars our way to progress and seduces us to the mediocre level of the world, quenching the joy of discipleship by telling us that there is no need to press on so hard. Having laid hold on cheap grace they are barred for ever from the knowledge of costly grace. Deceived and weakened, men feel they are now strong because of the new possession when in fact they had lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience.
The church is littered with the disciples of cheap grace and they are very evangelistic. They teach it well to their children and put such a drag on the rest of the church that many of the disciples get worn out trying to drag the cheapo’s into lifting a finger to help relieve the financial and spiritual needs of the church. Their
spiritual warfare consists of the arduous task of deciding whether or not to get up early enough for Sunday School. Hardened disciples barely bother to even go to church regularly and excuse themselves by casting stones at the very church God has called them to be a part of. They have discovered a grace that relieves them of all response to committed discipleship and the body. We must rediscover the mutual relationship between grace and discipleship.
Our most urgent need today is learning how to live the Christian life in the modern world? Happy are those who have discovered the true grace of God. Knowing it they can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in
this world. Happy are those who realize that discipleship simply means a life that springs from grace and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are those who have come to see grace as the sum of our life in Christ, and not the data used to excuse ourselves. Those who have truly left all, like Peter and John leaving their nets, or Levi his job, realize at once that they are still incapable of answering the call of God upon their lives by their own strength. They do not see their success as a personal achievement accomplished
by their great sacrifice. Instead, they see and know that only by the costly grace of God have their efforts brought forth any fruit of lasting value.
Which kind of grace have you embraced? What does your answer to the call of discipleship reveal? Does Sunday morning find you and your family gathering around the Tele-evangelists, unwilling to lay down your life for a body of believers who need you? Maybe you should trade in that sorry excuse of a Christian life for the New Life offered in the true grace of God. Yes, God loves you. But if you are using that love and grace to make up for a lack of discipline and effort instead of realizing it was meant to make up for our inability, then you have been deceived. Jesus told the rich man to: 1. Sell all he had, 2. Give to the poor and then 3. Follow Him. This wasn’t just and idle request. Jesus intentionally put the man in a position were
if he were to answer the call of God, it would be impossible to go back to the old life. He was asking him to sever all ties with the past and irrevocably step out and follow Christ. He realized that the rich man, like most men, are willing to try the call and see if the conditions are pleasing, deciding later whether or not to stay. The cutting away of our old way is something few are willing to do. That is why only a narrow path is needed for those headed for life. Many only really want a “present help in trouble” without a “Lord of Life”.
How have you answered the call?
John J. Clark (J. Jefferson)
Computers for Christ – Chicago